Running as a Punishment: We’re Doing it All Wrong

As a chubby blonde-haired girl growing up in the early 2000’s, running through the woods around our house was a weekly occurrence. Rather than getting grounded and having my phone taken away, like all other children experienced at my age, I was forced to run laps. Several laps. My parents owned an acre of hilly land, and I also had to finish each lap in under a minute and 45 seconds. Brutal. As a young child, I desperately pushed my body as hard as it could out of fear of receiving additional punishment: more laps.

You must understand this: I deemed running a form of modern day torture. I will never forget those days where I was both running and crying to make it under time.

Running by choice…

One of the great ironies of my life was eventually loving to run, particularly when the word “run” triggered dark memories. Despite my parent’s choice to cure “bad behavior” by running, I also put up with my softball, basketball, and volleyball coachs’ methods to motivate “lazy players” by making the team run. Why is this ironic? Because in many ways, it’s considered lazy coaching to punish a child for not making a basket or throwing the ball over third base, thus allowing the runner to score.  It’s a wonder I didn’t hate running for the rest of my adult life—a painful, lonely discipline—but instead, I pushed my childhood memories aside, and I ran my first 5k in 2014–for fun!

I owe many thanks to Pete, an ex-running coach from a nearby high school, whom sparked my interest in running again. He understood my excuses for not wanting to run, yet he met that with unlimited patience. With time, he challenged me to lace up my shoes and hit the pavement with him. Even as a total beginner intimidated by my first steps, Pete helped get me moving in the right direction. The first run was agonizing, but you know what? The second run, third run, sixth run… were fun.

And eventually, Pete suggested I sign up for my hometown’s Firecracker 5k, which happened to be under the baking July sun.

I’ll never forget finishing that 5k with Pete right at 30 minutes–better than I could have imagined. Even though I pushed myself so hard that I had chills at the end of the race, it was such a new, energizing experience I’d never forget.

Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.

Dean Karnazes, ultra-marathon runner

Since my first 5k, many years ago, I’ve run countless others: 5ks, 10ks, 15ks, and a half marathon. Each run is perfect in its own way: a chance to be extraordinary, a chance to overcome all obstacles, a chance to fight through pain and suffering, a chance to feel like a completely different person on the other side of the finish line.

Simply enjoy the challenge

Although running races doesn’t always mean I am improving my time or having an unforgettable, movie-like finish, at least I am enjoying it. I try to remind myself it’s not about being number one; that’s unrealistic. Instead, I dedicate my life to using this sport as my therapy, a healthy outlet.

I stand on the starting line, wait for the countdown, heart pounding with fear, hands shaking with adrenaline, and the gun goes off; everything changes. It’s just me and the road ahead, left with my thoughts to persevere, but most importantly, all childhood punishments left behind. Ultimately, I love every race I’m in, partly because it doesn’t remind me of sweaty laps around my house or laps around the softball field.

So… What should we do?

Although conditioning requires running, particularly in any youth sport, using running or any other type of exercise as punishment can and will negatively impact the overall strength of the coach, the athlete and the team. Rather than “running suicides,” as termed in basketball, let’s approach coach-to-athlete feedback with player contracts–literally on paper– and write out performance goals with your individual athletes. Promote accountability and team building. Let’s reinforce a young athlete’s self-esteem.

One thought on “Running as a Punishment: We’re Doing it All Wrong

  1. Great read Addie! I was never made to run as a punishment, but I can fully respect the ‘therapy’ portion of this. I like to refer to it as my ‘pavement therapy’! When I am out on the trail or road, it’s me, the wind in my face, and the miles ahead. Once I have completed the planned route, I get both a sense of accomplishment along with a mind more at ease!!


    Liked by 1 person

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